Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mission: Mars

Image result for mission mars

Mission: Mars. 

This idea all began with the curriculum I am not fond of. However, there was a speech by John F. Kennedy. His speech "Remarks at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center". A wonderful speech to introduce the Space Race.

Blank Space
Student Work
To spark students interest and curiosity, I created (last minute, sadly) a SMART amp workspace. I love SMART amp as it is an easy and fun way for students to collaborate in real time on any device. I typically give a mission, assign groups, and students explore, research, and share what they discover. They can use the chat feature (if you want a quiet room) or work together side-by-side. SMART amp is also amazing for collaborating with classes from across the state, country, and world! 

After students understood what the Space Race was all about, we then proceeded to read JFK's speech. We read it a couple of times. The first to truly hear his words. The second to disect his speech and the third to break down JFK's argument. As any educator knows, one can't simply read JFK's speech. One must experience his passion by listening to it. So the next day, that's what we did. We listened to his last speech given. Students picked up upon his passion and how important his mission to the moon truly was. They perfered JFK's reading to mine. First time for everything! 

After listening to JFK and researching, discussing, and sharing the Space Race and what it's done for the United States and where NASA has done today, I took the students of the Duck Pond to Mars. Using Google Expeditions of course! Students were in awe of Mars and what it really looks like. We looked at the rover, Curiosity, and the images it captured. And since students had done their research, they knew what they saw was back in 1997.

Then, crazily enough, President Trump signed "the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, which sets a $19.5 billion budget for the agency for fiscal year 2017" ( with the mission to get Americans to Mars by 2030. This was amazing news and fit perfectly with our next task:  argumentative writing. 

Students read and researched the pros and cons of people being allowed to own property in space. We discussed as a class, held a debate, looked at resources I gave, as well as ones students discovered. It was so cool to hear the passion behind their arguments!

Image result for engineering design processTo finish our space unit, I found a Sphero Mars Rover lesson on Sphero's Lightening Lab. After all the talk about getting to Mars, well NASA, of course, needs a new rover! I set up the parameters using Prezi and discussed the Engineering Design Process, shared a Google Slides template for students, and let them go! 

It was amazing to see student's creative process. Most students started driving the Spheros to get the hang of the robots. Then each group tested Sphero in the Mars Simulation Area. Because Sphero is a, well, sphere, it does not travel well in sand. So what would they do? 

Most went straight into the building process. I can't blame them. Building and creating is the best part! Students came up with some pretty interesting ideas. From paper, rubber bands, rolls to wrap the Sphero in, and so much more to aid our Spheros in Mars. At the end of the project, I assigned a reflection where most students mentioned that they should have done more research about the best ways to move across the sand and rocky areas. 

Overall, Sphero Rovers were a HUGE success! Students would have liked more time, but liked the process and use of the robots. 

I can't wait to improve upon this unit and expand our use of Spheros in the classroom. 

Student project 

Student project 2

Student project 3

Monday, March 6, 2017

Engaging Students in Digital Learning-TeacherCast

When you get the call to chat with Jeff Bradbury, you take the call. 

I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Sarah Richards of SMART Technologies, Shane Jordan from Spark, and Jeff Bradbury of TeacherCast to talk about the digital learning my students are doing in the Duckpond. 

Needless to say, I was honored. Like many educators, I am a subscriber and listen faithfully to TeacherCast. This was going to be...

As a SMART Exemplary Educator, I had the opportunity to see and use SMART amp before the masses. To tell you the truth, I didn't get it. I DIDN'T GET IT! I saw SMARTamp for the math classroom, the science classroom as they are more "hands-on" with problems, experiments, and solutions; these subjects simply lent themselves to easy collaboration. English is more conversation, more written word etc. 
Additionally, there are FREE products and webtools that students could use to collaborate on (ahem, Google), so I didn't quite get jus how SMARTamp would be better. 
While at a SMART Summit, I had the chance to work with fellow English teachers to create a SMARTamp workspace. Being ELA teachers, the only thing we could come up with was a collaborative writing piece. Once the ideas began to flow, we could see the power in SMARTamp. 

SMARTamp was MADE for education. It was made for the ease of use for students. This wasn't about the teacher, this product is for the students. In an infinite space, students (and the teacher creating the space) are not locked into a "type" of assignment. It is not just a presentation, a digital worksheet, a collaboration tool. It can be any and all of those things and SO much more. SMARTamp has the power to give students the power to take charge of their learning. To direct it. It also brings the world much closer to our students. 
Needless to say, I have used SMARTamp ever since. I LOVE it. My students LOVE it. It has endless possibilities. 

Does that mean I have given up all other tech tools and products? 
NO! I will use whatever tool that will benefit my students and their learning. 

But going back to the interview/vodcast. It was great to share the awesomeness that my students do in the classroom. Students need to collaborate, to share, to take on learning in meaningful ways. Students need to think outside the box and take challenges head on. For years now, it seems students only know how to see tasks as black and white, right or wrong. It's time to bring back free thinking and creativity!
Jeff was super easy to talk to and share with. He even welcomed my son, Hunter, to the show. We discussed collaboration, tools, student engagement, and, of course, SMARTamp. TeacherCast rests solely on educators reaching out and sharing with Jeff, so contact him! Share your knowledge! #BetterTogether. I hope to share again with Jeff and the TeacherCast crew real soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Five: A Survey

I love being a connected educator. I love to read, connect, share, question and grow as a learner.

As I was learning, I came across a blog post from Mari Venturino. She wrote about reflection and simply looking at our goals and dreams. Her challenge to the masses was a Five: A Blog Survey.

Below are my "Five" and the categories came from Mari.

Five Places I’m Dying To Visit 
- ISTE! One day, one day I will get there and share and learn so much!
- England-I had a pen pal growing up from England and I have always wanted to go
-Japan- I am seriously dying to see their Cherry Blossom Festival. In my ELA class, we read a book set in Japan and it brings in the history, culture, and mystic of Japan. I want to see it myself. 
- Peru- My husband and I had a trip to Peru all lined up....then we discovered we were pregnant. We will try to get there soon!
-Elvis Prestly's house- yes, this may be a strange one in the mists of all the others; however, I have a bucket list my mom had and this was on it. I would LOVE to fulfull this for her.

Five Tasks I Do Every Day
- Teach! Whether it's my students or kids, I am always teaching something. 
- Show that I care, through words, hugs, texts, and other affections. 
- Text, tweet, or vox with my best teacher friends. This technology has pushed me to be a better educator and I am lucky to have such a wonderful PLN. 
- Play and laugh with my family. Time is every fleeting and I try to take the time to BE with my kids and hubby. 
- Relax. I have to take a little time for me. This may include reading, having tea, hanging with my husband, or heading to bed early! 

Five Talents I Wish I Had
- Cleaning: We have two littles, two and nine months. There is NO time for cleaning. NONE. Nope. No. No way. No how. (my hubby spoils me with a cleaning service!)
- Patience: I have a TON of patience for my students and classes. I wish I could transfer more of that to my kids and husband. It's almost like my classes suck all my patience I have.

-Cooking: My husband is an AMAZING cook. Even when it seems we have little to nothing in the fridge or freezer, he can create the most delicious dishes. Sadly, I do most of the cooking and not as creative or good as he.

-Photography: I LOVE taking pictures. LOVE it. I sometimes secretly wish I had a side job as a photographer. I have taken a handful of photography classes and wish to take more. If only there was time!

-Writer: I teach English. I write a journal and a blog. I wish I was simply better at it. I wish I had ideas to write a novel or educational handbook or something. I love to write and reflect, I just wish I could fill the pages that would help, inspire, and/or entertain. 

Five Leaders I Wish I Could Work With
- Jon Corippo: This man does it all! I remember the first time I met him (Fall CUE, 2012) and I was wowed! WOWED! He pushes me to be better for my students and for me! 

- Rafranz Davis: Rafranz is the epitome of learning, teaching and mentoring. I learn so much from her every single day! Her blog is a plethora of knowledge that I always let sink in and move/change me. I am lucky to call her friend!
- Dave Burgess: I love Teach Like a Pirate and all the other books from Dave Burgess Consulting. His book saved me at a time I truly thought about leaving education. I recently had the opportunity to hear him speak and then meet him! IT. WAS. AWESOME! He even remembered me from Twitter (WOW!). If I could work along side him....I would definitely pay for a ticket for that!
- Cheryl Morris: Cheryl is AH-MAZING! She does puppets, flipped learning, she does it all! And with such style! I am so grateful for her and teaching me so much about flipped learning and teaching in general.
- Doug Robertson: He is the weird teacher. I am too! If I had the opportunity to work with him....oh the damage, I mean fun we could have! OH! And the learning that would take place! Me and the students!

There are SO many others!! SO many out there that truly inspire me!

Five Twitter Hashtags I Love
- #CaEdChat: Educators across California that come together to share, discuss, and uplift one another. Sunday nights
-#Flipclass: Home of the flipped classroom. Join our weekly chat about techniques, trials, successes, and more!

-#Tlap: I love Teach Like a Pirate. It saved me and my career at my lowest. When I need a fast paced, super inspiring chat, I head to #Tlap

-#GeniusHour: Genius Hour changed my classroom, so when I discovered there was Genius Hour chat....SOLD!!
- #edtechteam (formerly #gafesummit): Like most teachers, I LOVE Google and GAFE! This chat brings it all home.

Five Blogs 
- My Paperless Classroom- Sam Patterson

Five Phrases I Have On Repeat
- FAIL= First. Attempt. In. Learning
- When you love, you take your chances of being hated by speaking the truth.
- "Some pursue happiness, others create it." Unknown
- If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." Maya Angelou
- "You can't go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending...

Five Things I Always Have in the Fridge/Freezer
- Creamer- I need it.  Coffee. Enough said.
- Milk
- Steak-we are a meat eating family
- Fruit
- Tortillas-TACO TUESDAYS!

Five Books On My To-Be-Read List
-Play Like a Pirate- Quinn Rollins

-The Innovator's Mindset- George Couros

-Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that's Transforming Education- Ken Robinson

-Kids Deserve it!-Todd Nesloney, Adam Welcome

-Launch Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and bring out the Maker in every Student-  John Spencer

Writing this "Five" was pretty fun and insightful. Reminds me that I need to take the time for me to do the things I love and spend more time with those I love and inspire me. 

I encourage you to write your five!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The EduAwesomeness of Teachers

I came into the world of #Edtech in 2011. Of course, I had been using technology with my students for a few years before that, but 2011 was when I discover Twitter for educators. As many of you know, this opened a whole new world of awesome! 
I discovered that there were passionate people out there who felt as I felt about education, technology, and bring students to the center of learning. Seeing, connecting, and sharing with those like-minded moved me to my core. In fact, I became slightly obsessed with Twitter. So much so, my husband had to remind me that he was sitting next to me! 

Twitter was only the beginning. Being connected opened my eyes to exciting conferences, new opportunities, and pushed me to continually be updated on education and its trends. Now I write, share, connect, try things, fail often, seek the passions of my students, bring students to the center of their learning, and model my love of learning.

So what brought me to connect with other passionate educators? 

Simple. We all hold similar traits. These traits bring us together, cause us to advocate for our students, and push us to continue learning, growing, and take risks in our classrooms.

Being collaborative is what brings us, educators, together. We want to discuss, share, debate, learn, and connect. We have a need to share, gather, and discover new ideas. We want input on our lessons, classrooms, and overall design. We have a need to present those ideas at conferences, workshops, platforms big and small. We collaborate to help; to help our colleagues and our students. We are connected!!

Student Centered
Gone are the days of direct instruction. I am not saying there isn't a time and place for such, but when you have learning student-centered, students learn so much more! We know that learning takes place better when students lead. Technology has made it so that the teacher is no longer the keeper of knowledge. Students can now lead the path, research and share in discussions, and able to find solutions to issues that arise.

Risk Takers
Teachers aren't always viewed as risk takers, but there are many of us who push the limits and ask forgiveness later. We do what we need to reach our students; to do what's best for our students. We buck the system, not because we are disrupting maveriks. We buck the system because we know better is out there. We know we need to bring xyz to our students. We need to bring the curriculum to life. We need to enhance the curriculum. We need to expose students to the world and bring learning true to life. We attempt things that may or may not work. We celebrate those failures and learn from them. And when learning is successful, we rejoice in its triumph. 

All teachers are adaptive But what makes Edtech teachers truly adaptive is that we will not be pigeon held. We are pirates, mavericks, and as mentioned, risk takers. We take the curriculum we are given and add, subtract, teach and reteach in ways that our students need. No one class is the same. No one lesson is ever taught the same. We add videos, projects, links, act out scenes, sing, laugh, play games, etc as needed to reach our students. Every day, every period is a new adventure. And you know what? We RELISH and LOVE it. 

Life-Long Learner
This seems obvious, but I know many teachers that do not continue to learn and grow their craft. They are given curriculum and carry on. The teachers that are life-long learners are the ones leading EdTech. We want to continue to learn and bring those ideas to the masses, students included! We take pride in learning about our content area; new technologies; in how other schools, states, and countries learn. We dive into learning about improving teaching strategies, integration, technologies, even what is "cool" in the world of our students to draw them in. We LOVE learning. We LOVE discovering new ideas and diving further into new ideas. Learning. Never. Stops.

If you do each of these things, GREAT! I am sure a great many of you are! 

If you're not, there is great news! YOU CAN BE! There is plenty of time to learn, share, and grow in this profession of ours! Education is not stagnant nor should educators be. Let's join together, learn together, grow together. After all, we are in this together. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2017 Goals

The new year is upon us! And with a new year, comes new resolutions and new goals, with a little reflection of the past year.

We, my class and I, began this school year with a new schedule and new curriculum. Our schedule took away our ELA block. I know only have my students for 51 minutes each day, instead of 88. Our new curriculum wasn't exactly chosen by our site teachers (which could be a whole other blog post). Nevertheless, as a good teacher and employee, I want to teach that new curriculum in a shorter amount of time the best I can and reach students.

Reflecting back on how the first semester with a new curriculum went...I can truly say it was a challenge. Like anything new, I wasn't completely comfortable or familiar. It was like my first year of teaching all over again. Well, minus the lack in classroom management. Anyway, it was difficult. The material wasn't a favorite for my students and the material's focus seemed very repetitive-meaning the same skills were being addressed over and over again. Plus, it also seemed as if there was only content and not really teaching the skill to students. It has been incredibly confusing.

Additionally, I didn't have ways (yet) to make the lessons more engaging. Like I mentioned, the material wasn't super high interest for my students. Not all lessons are, however, I can MAKE them more interesting by adding something to the material. I just couldn't seem to figure anything "cool" to do with what I was given. I was lacking in my Teach like a Pirate ways.

So how do you deal with the struggle?

Well, winter break came and that helped. I needed to regroup and really think about my students, my class, and my approach. What I was doing last semester wasn't really working. Sure, I was "teaching the curriculum", but I haven't felt like I was reaching my students. I didn't feel like I was casting true knowledge that will last them for future years. I definitely haven't felt like I was inspiring them like I have in years past.

 So what do I do differently?

Doing what's best. I will do what is best for my students. Will I still use the curriculum? Of course, but I will supplement when and where it is needed. I will pull outside resources, I will add interactive technology that builds upon knowledge, teaches new knowledge, and helps my students explore their world while connecting them to others. I am going to do what is best for students.

I am going to integrate strategies, techniques, and skills that I  have seen work with students. I am going to bring in students interests as materials for our lessons. I am going to reconnect with other passionate educators to push me to do and be better. I will make learning student driven and focus on "If the system is set up for learning, then you will need to get out of sts way or they will bowl you over" Alice Keeler.

I will also join fellow educators that are as passionate as I am about education, about growing, about learning. I need to get back into conversations, conferences, and those that push me to be better. I love my family and kids, but I miss my professional network! I miss Twitter chats! I miss the knowledge and sharing of ideas! I need to get back so that I can do what is best for students.

2017 is my year to get back to doing what I know is best for students!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Adding STEAM

STEAM in ELA.jpgOctober is here and I can't believe I am still standing. This year has presented itself quite a challenge. This year our English department no longer has block scheduling. We went to having three classes for eighty-eight minutes to five classes for only fifty minutes. This gave the other departments longed for extra time, but this took away over 200 minutes from ELA, with the same standards to cover, now in a shorter amount of time.

Add to that, new curriculum. Curriculum that has been riddled with issues, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, and not quite the fun and interesting material that was shown. A curriculum that has seemed to move me, specifically, from a student centered classroom back to teacher centered. AND I have to follow the curriculum to a T-so to speak. Can not add additional projects, supplemental material, and ONLY two novels-when we usually do three or four.

Needless to say....

My students are wonderful and fun to teach. But I feel like I am missing. New curriculum can be difficult. Especially when you teach in such a way to have students dive into the material and not so much teacher directed. It's almost like I have taken steps backward.

So what to do?

I continue to add STEAM and activities to boost the new curriculum. I still use the tools in my teacher tool box to engage, encourage, and stimulate students to tackle their learning. I refuse to give certain things up-especially when it benefits students.

Reflecting on my first quarter, I wish I would have done more, but I did manage to squeeze in some fun in the form of STEAM. The DuckPond was reading a short story called "The Rogue Wave". It was fine. I did this story as a flipped lesson by recording myself reading the story in parts. I put each in Edpuzzle and students listened, followed along, and answered comprehension questions so that in class the next day, we could discuss and make real world applications. 

One thing I noticed is that students didn't "get" just how big this rogue wave in our story was. Sure, they understood the struggle the characters had in their attempts to survive. But understanding the shear size of the wave was tough. Sure, I could have shown a video or pictures of rogue waves, but even then...

One night, I woke up thinking SPHEROS!! Yep, Spheros were the answer to my rogue wave issue.

I gave students an extra credit opportunity to do some math for ELA. My sneaky way to prep students for the two days of robotics. I had students look at the size of the rogue wave and the schooner, then scale them to the size of the Sphero. The next day in class, students worked in groups to scale the wave to Sphero (if they did extra credit, they ZOOMED through this part) then they got to "test drive" the Spheros and then finally try to capsize the Sphero on the scaled version of the wave.

This. Worked. 

After students came in from driving the Spheros and saw the size of the wave to the robot....they got just how MONSTEROUS the wave in our story was. Students then could write (back to English here!) how the Spheros connected to the story and how they would feel if they were one of the characters in the story. 

Writing about how they would feel as a character without truly grasping the size of the wave would have been worthless without adding some STEAM. Was it outside the box? Yes. Did it connect students to the reading? Yes. Was it fun, err, I mean engaging. MOST definitely. PLUS, students practiced some math, some coding, as well as English.

Image result for win

I think this simply shows, that even when we are incorporating new curriculum, ideas, etc. we can still use those tools that help students take the material further. We can still be engaging, student centered, and meet the needs of our students and district.

And special thanks to CUE SteamPunk, I would not have thought of robotics in my ELA class without being able to experiment with robots through their program. CHECK THEM OUT!

Attempting to capsize the S

Sphero driving school

Friday, September 30, 2016

Year Sixteen and Better than Ever!

It’s the start of the school year and there are a lot of familiar faces – and unfamiliar faces in your classroom. So how do you get to know your students?

For me, instead of the traditional "Hi! I am Mrs. Menge. This year as a classroom community, we will..." I like to have students begin to feel safe in class, as well as learn about me, their peers, and the fun we will have throughout the year.

From the amazing mind of Jon Corippo, I have adapted Smart Start. Smart Start states that "By creating an optimal experience for kids in the first few days of school, we can enhance academics. For students to be engaged, creative and passionate learners, they need a place of learning that is: welcoming, open and consistent." All educators want their students to feel safe and cared for! So why not incorporate experiences that build community while learning skills they will need in my class all year.

So the first seven school days were all fun. Fun in learning. 

In fact, I barely introduced myself! I had Weird Al Yankovic's "Word Crimes" playing as students walked and I said "Hello". Then once the bell rang, I said, "Hello! Welcome to the Duckpond! I am Mrs. Menge and I now challenge you!" Thus they began the Marshmallow Challenge.

Day Two was all about learning about our environment-the school's that is! Again, I briefly said hello and had them discuss what QR codes and scavenger hunts have in common. Then off they went! I LOVE the scavenger hunt as it shows and teaches students where basic areas are: the bathrooms, the nurse, office, library, etc. But also introduces them to our class website, classroom information, and more. Simple, fun, #eduawesome!

SMART Amp Class Workspace
The first full week of school consisted of using technology tools that students will be using all year. But instead of giving them a traditional assignment, I wanted to set up our classroom as a community and have students meet each other. At our site, this is the first year students from all the elementary schools come together and thus more new faces. So of course I want students to learn about other students (and my TAs and my) favorite shoes, songs, and super hero! Monday and Tuesday was learning Animoto (this turned out to be a GREAT thing to use for Back-to-School NIght). Wednesday was watching the Duck Pond's "How to Videos" made by the current 8th graders....because who else better to learn from than the students you want to be next year?! Thursday was SMART amp and learning about our likes, dislikes, researching (a little), and more. Friday was doing my first BreakOUT Edu. Students did "The Case of the Mondays". It was tough for my student to think outside the box, but because we had worked together for almost a week, they worked so well together! Not one of my groups broke out, but they LOVED the challenge and asked to do it again. 

Once again, I started the year focused on STUDENTS and creating a caring environment all the while learning tools needed for the year. I wish I could spend more time doing SMART Start, as I didn't get to do my "Google Yourself Challenge", the Teach Like a Pirate "Island Activity", and some Maybe I will take TWO weeks next year. 


By cultivating those connections and a safe environment, students will not be afraid to fail, make mistakes, and thus learn even more. Students will give you all they can and succeed because YOU believe they can. It's those little things that make a HUGE difference.